What Distant Deeps — Snippet 46

CHAPTER 15: Calvary on Zenobia

Hogg had procured the vehicle, so Daniel let him drive the squad of Sissies through the dark streets of the city. He wasn’t a very good driver, but none of them were; and it had been the right choice to make for other reasons. Hogg was whistling Lilliburlero, cheerful and completely himself for the first time since he’d injured his hand.

“Hey Hogg, what is this thing?” Barnes called from the back. “A hay cart?”

The vehicle had an electric motor and balloon tires — of four different sizes, granted, but nonetheless reasonably quiet on the brick streets — so it was possible to talk inside without bellowing. Even the thrum of the drive belt, slanting from the cab down through the floor of the back — there was no partition — wouldn’t have been noticeable if its rumbling surface hadn’t been unshielded for most of its length. Spacers were used to things that could snap off a finger or a whole leg, but the experienced ones didn’t let themselves forget about such dangers.

“The fellow has a general hauling business,” Hogg said. “I put him onto a good thing, and he’s letting us use the truck for as long as we need. Nice one, isn’t it?”

Daniel’s helmet projected a route in front of the driver. As Hogg spoke, the hologram indicated a corner coming. He turned more quickly than the street did, but the curb on that side was low. Both the pole and the side of the vehicle had brushed things in the past.

Woetjans muttered, “Bloody hell!” as she rocked in the back. That was mainly because she didn’t like surface transportation, however. Her hands were tight on opposite ends of her truncheon. Even she couldn’t make the high-pressure tubing bend, though.

This was a good vehicle, though, especially for the purpose. The back had high sides; they’d rigged a tarp over the top so that people looking down from third-floor roofs couldn’t see what was going on, but even that wouldn’t have mattered.

Daniel hadn’t asked — and wouldn’t ask—for details on the “good thing” Hogg had mentioned. It looked to him as though the new battery clamped beside the motor had been RCN issue, though he was pretty sure it hadn’t come from stores that Captain Daniel Leary had signed for. Even if the situation was what he suspected it was, the RCN was getting value from its supply budget.

“Daniel,” said Adele through the commo helmet. “It’s going to take us –”

“Us” meant Cory and Cazelet under her direction, he supposed. Daniel didn’t object to or even ask about the tasks Adele gave his officers. The business was a stark violation of RCN regs, but it worked extremely well.

“– days or weeks even to get through the material on Gibbs’ personal database, but he seems to have preserved every contact he had with the plotters. He recorded all his conversations with his Palmyrene handler, both personal and by phone. I can’t imagine what he was thinking of!”

She paused, then added, “Of course, the archivist in me is very pleased. We might not even need Gibbs in person.”

“Oh, we need him,” Daniel said, feeling his smile harden. He wasn’t a cruel man; he wasn’t even hard, by the standards of people like Hogg and — there was no point in denying the bald truth — Adele. Nonetheless, he was a Leary and an officer of the RCN: those who attacked him and his would pay.

He cleared his throat and said, “Adele, is the password ‘Shirley’ still correct, over?”

“Yes,” said Adele. “It’s his mother’s name, according to his file in Navy House.” Without changing tone she added, “You’re approaching Gibbs’ residence. I’m shutting off his exterior surveillance system now. Actually, I’ve switched off the entire system. Ah, over.”

Hogg switched off the power, turning the electric motor into a brake: the only brake the vehicle had so far as Daniel could see, except for the spade outside the cab on the driver’s side. That could be pivoted to dig into the street on either an up or down slope, though it seemed of limited utility on bricks unless the driver carefully wedged it into a crack.

“We’re here, young master,” Hogg said. He started to get out. The street was so narrow that there was barely room to walk around the vehicle to either side. The narrow-fronted row houses were of two stories. They had stone foundation courses and were brick above that.

“Stay with the car,” said Daniel, “or I’ll make Barnes the driver. Your choice.”

Hogg grimaced. “I’ll drive the bloody thing,” he muttered. “Go on, have your fun.”

“Come on, Sissies,” Daniel said quietly. The cab didn’t have doors, and the squad in the back had already thrown down the wooden tailgate. “No sound till I tell you!”

Gibbs lived without servants, though until he began his dealings with the Palmyrenes there’d been a cook/housekeeper on the premises. He’d dispensed with her then, apparently from security concerns. His electronic files were more damning than if he’d published his plans on billboards across from the Founder’s Palace, but presumably he hadn’t expected to run into Officer Adele Mundy.

Daniel rapped on the door with the knuckles of his left hand. Anyone watching from neighboring houses — and there must be some; vehicles weren’t common in this district — would notice his commo helmet; that was unusual but not specifically identifiable. The six Sissies with him wore the loose, nondescript clothing that they worked in — just like every other spacer and most common laborers besides.

“Gibbs!” he growled. “Open up! Shirley! Shirley! It’s going to go tits-up if we don’t move fast!”

“What’s happened?” Gibbs cried through the door in a muted squeak. Metal rattled, a key or a drawbolt. “I saw the bloody corvette come back!”

The door started to swing in. Daniel shoved it hard with his left hand. It banged against a chain bolt. “Woetjans!” he shouted.

The bosun kicked the door where the bolt was anchored, ripping it out of the wood. The panel slammed Gibbs back into the room and knocked the pistol from his hand. Slithering on his back, he reached for the gun.

Daniel stamped on Gibbs’ diaphragm, doubling him up like a salted slug. He began to vomit.

Woetjans burst in with the rest of the team behind her. “Don’t hit him!” Daniel shouted. “Where’s the bag?”

Dasi pulled the tarpaulin sack from under his belt. He slipped it over the head of the prisoner; his partner Barnes pulled the drawstrings.

“If I’d wanted him dead, I’d have shot him!” Daniel grumbled. He stuck his index finger under edge of the sack and jerked it looser. “We don’t want him to suffocate, right?”

“All right, load him in the van,” Woetjans said. Four spacers grabbed handfuls of Gibbs and carried him into the street. Any of those present could have handled the prisoner unaided, including —

Daniel grinned with satisfaction.

— Captain Daniel Leary himself.

Light through the open doorway spilled onto the bricks. Daniel pulled the door to, then climbed into the cab beside Hogg. No point in encouraging the neighbors to come look.

“Back to the Sissie after a good night’s work, Hogg,” he said.

“The night’s still young, I say,” said Hogg as the van accelerated slowly forward. There wasn’t room in the street to turn around. “I’m kinda looking forward to hearing what Master Assistant Commissioner has to say.”

He glanced over his shoulder, then added, “And encouraging him, if he has trouble finding his tongue.”

Hogg’s right hand was in a lightweight cast from which the fingers projected. He tapped it against the steering wheel in a jaunty rhythm.